‘Twas the week after Christmas, and all through the house …

… Not a creature was stirring, apart from…

“Anna, don’t move. You won’t like this. You really won’t like this.”

A mouse was behind the sofa.

A mouse, in my apparently mouse-proof house, after six months of mouselessness and four days before my Mouse-Catcher Beloved disappears for two weeks.

There was a mouse.

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Anyone who has read this site for any length of time probably saw that coming from the first word of the title. They will, you see, be aware that I have a slight problem with mice. A small issue. A diddy phobia.

Anyone who hasn’t read this site for any length of time is about to get the same idea. At length. Sorry. It’s just the way things are around here when the mice come to stay.

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Roused from my warm going-to-bed-early telly-snuzzle, I was immediately as alert as a really really terrified fox. In a single bound (or so) I was on the arm of the other sofa, scanning the room and calculating how much danger I was in where I stood. It could run up the side of and across the sofa, taking a direct route up my trouser leg – that was the most obvious thing. It could run up the curtains and be in my hair in seconds. It could – and did, at that very moment – run around the back of the sofa and into my line of vision, before disappearing under the bookshelves.

A highpitched scream (mine). A leap to the floor by the door, down the hall, into the bathroom, a quick scan under everything, behind everything, then the door closed, a towel against the bottom of it, and me, standing tall, one foot on either side of the bath, and pushing myself against the wall to cool down the skin which, as my heart rate had increased and my temperature risen, was beginning to cover itself with tiny blotches, spots and welts.

Everything went quiet. In the living room, my Beloved Of The Shoebox was trying to catch something scuttling and succeeding only in chasing it from the under of one sofa to the under of some shelves. In the bathroom, I soon got bored, and inbetween the violent waves of vomit, I cleaned everything thoroughly – sink, bath, toilet, floor. Reorganised the shelves. Shaved my legs.

My beloved brought me my jeans, coat and shoes. He would keep the thing in one room – I would veture out to secure its mode of demise.

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Three days earlier, Christmas eve, on the phone

“… And I managed to get a baking sheet thing from Woolworths, but they didn’t have any more lights for the tree, sorry”

“No matter – will you walk up to meet us, then?”

“Ye – Oooh, while I remember, theCostcutters down the high road has … Oh, no, no, sorry, maybe I shouldn’t say this”

“What?”

“They sell mousetraps.”

“What?! What do you mean? Why would we need… Do you mean that we have … Why are you telling me this? Why, WHY?”

“No, Anna. No. No mice. We have no mice. I just thought it would be a useful thing to know for the future – just in case”

Turns out it was.

Forty minutes and a journey into the depths of Dalston later, I returned with two packs of traps. Two packs of four traps. Eight traps.

While the living room was over-boobied with traps, I retired to the bathroom, read a little, did some more sicking and polished my nails.

The living room was sealed. The space under the door that mouse had used for entry was stuffed with television guides, apart from two gaps which were covered by traps. Six more traps snuggled up by the walls inside. Once the bedroom had been checked – under, behind and in everything – I left the bathroom, double checked the bedroom while the kitchen was quickly scanned and cleaned, and then laid down, buried my head under the duvet, and commenced the business of shivering.

*****

For a while, my beloved sat beside me reading while I dropped off, us both knowing that this was the only way I wouldn’t convince myself I had to lie staring at the ceiling all night.

By the rules of the mouse-phobia, someone had to be alert At All Times. Someone had to be listening. After a while, when he thought he heard the soft snuffling snory sounds of sleeping, he silently burrowed down into the duvet, and held me while I slept and while I shivered.

As soon as he dropped off, of course, I knew. I knew it was my turn. I was on guard. Someone had to be alert, someone had to listen, and if he was – very understandably – needing to be asleep, then the listener would have to be me.

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Rationally – and I realise that it’s a little late in the day for that word to come into play now – I knew that listening was pointless. The only thing it did was make me feel in the slightest touch of control in a situation where I have none.

But I’m trying to get a sense of rational about this all, so I’d tell myself not to listen. Then, in the seconds before I dropped off, I would hear something, or imagine that I had heard something, and the nausea would come burning up my throat, and I would feel my temperature rise, my head start to pound, and my heart start to rattle hard in my chest.

Lying on my back, breathing in through my nose, and out through my mouth, it would slowly go away, and, for a few minutes I would start to go to sleep again, until I heard something, or thought I did, and … and the whole thing would begin again. In around ten minute cycles, I think. Drift – panic – drift – panic – drift – panic – cry – drift – panic.

At around four, I think, or maybe five, I heard the snap of a trap in the next-door room, and I finally fell into a kind of a sleep – all the time dreaming feverishly of waking up and finding the flat completely overrun.

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It was the coldest night in ages, I reassure myself, that’s why he came in. The natural habitat of a mouse cannot actually be the third floor of a new apartment building, I’m informing myself that I still think. And besides, I’m very aware of these things, and there hasn’t been any sign of the bastards until now. Not a nibble, not a poo. Sometimes one mouse is just one mouse, especially when you live in a block and they scurry from place to place occasionally. It doesn’t mean there are 15 more living under the oven. Does it?

I could run away, yes, I could – but how would that possibly help? And besides – it’s my flat. I can’t actually be thrown onto the street by mice, just because my big strong beloved is going away for a couple of weeks – can I?

I’m sure it will be fine. I’m not sure what I’ll do for food, and the computer will need to be moved into a hermetically sealed bedroom – but you know what? I’m sure it will all be just fine. I’m sure. It will all be fine. Just fine.

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As I lay awake, I knew that I would write about this here today, and knew that those who chuckled when I hopefully said that the magic new flat would never get mice were proved right, now.

And I knew – knew – that someone would appear in my comments box and say the familiar, hilarious oft-spoken-by-non-phobic-animal-lover words:

“They more afraid of you than you are of them, of course”

So let me pre-empt you, if you were about to say that – and ask you to read the above once more. Carefully.

Because they’re not, you know. They’re really, really not.